Fanfictions – Delusions or Expressions of Admiration?
Fanfiction by nature has no true roots, therefore it makes the evolution and history hard to track. Yet one of its earliest known uses in popular culture as a term is in 1939 in contrast to pro fiction in the sci-fi community to differentiate from the amateur science fiction. We still see the stigma between the two persisting today, but is it warranted? Many of the arguments against fan fiction are the way that it can twist the perception of a character, or even in some cases inserts a real person. Since fan fiction made the leap from strictly fictional characters into being written about the actors or otherwise that are associated with the work that the fiction is based on.
Fanfiction Amateur’s Hobby or “Real Art”
A viewpoint that does not stand up to questioning is whether or not fan fiction is a valid art form: by most reasonable standards it is. Yet, a strong stigma still surrounds those that spend their time writing and playing in worlds already created instead of writing their own. For comparison, it contrasts very strongly with the traditionally published vs. self-published arguments. We live in an age where art in many mediums is more accessible than it has ever been, and fan fiction is just a slightly strange, occasionally creepy off shoot of that. While it is not entirely harmless, in many ways it serves as a refuge and community to those who may stand isolated in their interests geographically.
An Archive to Gather the Fandom Masses
One place that many of those works are gathered, in a more formal way is the Archive of Our Own, or AO3 as it is most often referred to. This serves as much of a catch-all for a lot of the fanfiction written since 2009, the year that the archive was founded.
In many ways, it represents the best and worst facets of the internet, and provides an interesting cross section of fandom culture as a whole. It concentrates people from all walks of life over something that they have in common. This concentration can be positive, or it can bring out the extremes of humanity, and by nature can be very addictive and isolating by proxy. These types of associations are common with fandom culture, but are far from universal. Fanfiction also has a reputation for being poorly written and extremely amateurish. While it is easy to find these types of pieces if you go looking for them more often one will come across pieces that stand up next to many bestsellers that fill the shelves today, and some even better written.
The way that fan fiction is distributed helps to weed out those pieces that are poorly written and full of tropes. Those pieces may be distributed on a limited basis, but those that truly gain “fandom fame” are those that take their “craft” very seriously and are vastly talented. Fanfiction does not stand the same challenges the way that most other traditionally published books or other media streams face. The market is the consumer, and the relationship is not dictated by a higher power or middle man trying to interpret market trends.
This also can be the downfall of fanfic writers since the life cycle of what is considered popular can turn much faster. With that respect given, the hours of work that may go into writing a fic still pales in comparison to the hundreds or even thousands of hours put in by many people that traditionally publish a book. While many of the books traditionally published are of a certain caliber, there are examples such as things like the Fifty Shades of Gray series that manage to make the jump from fanfiction to traditionally published sensation.
When the series first gained ground, much of the criticism came from the seemingly almost plagiarized parallels between the structure between E.L. James’s writing and Stephanie Myer’s of Twilight. The culturally bad taste that this left behind for many still pervades and is often the only association that many have for fanfiction. But this should not serve as the standard for a cultural phenomenon that is as vast and wide as the media it imitates.
One example of a piece that is a shining example of what fanfiction can be is Something They Can Never Take Away by a_mind_at_work on Archive of Our Own. It places the historical players in Hamilton in a modern high school setting, including George Washington serving as a foster father to Alexander Hamilton. The nuance that is created through the so far over fifty chapters in this series easily serves a way to see what fanfiction can be and often is.
Fanfiction’s Dark Depths
Fanfiction that deals with historical characters or fictional characters is highly popular, and overall not terribly controversial, but as previously mentioned RPF or real people fic has a much more possibly edgy spin. The argument against it for many is the way it reduces real people to caricatures, and stereotypes of fans. This problem can spill over into real life quite easily, and these behaviors drive many away from fandoms. The things that are said in fics or on places like tumblr can be repeated in person or tweeted at in a much more visible arena to the person the fic may be about. In these situations, fanfiction can cross the line into dehumanizing, but mostly when taken too far. Fandoms can be spaces where counter-cultural beliefs are held, and when this deals strictly with long dead historical, or fictional characters this is overall harmless. The problem comes in when fandoms latch onto dangerous stereotypes about real people that are broadcast to them in public and often on their social media.
This type of situation churns out a dangerous mix of idolization and fans believing they have ownership over real people’s lives. Real-people fiction is only harmless until it begins to interfere with the real lives of the people that it’s being written about. A certain amount of lost privacy is assumed, but the stereotypes that come across in these RPF can be deeply damaging to the person being written about, and is the reason many popular actors and actresses in fandom heavy creations stay away from social media and avoid fan interactions.
While fanfiction counterculture itself can be off-putting, overall it’s very passionate people who love creating new adventures for their favorite characters. While no one person can ever truly understand the scope of what fanfiction is, considering all the fan bases that create it, there’s usually always something for everyone. There have even been English teachers that utilize fan fiction as a way to allow students to relate to otherwise sometimes very modernly aloof personalities. It also can serve as a go between for classic required reading, and the students who often despise it.
If we front to say that we live in a world that allows art to be elevated in new ways through the internet and the communities that they create, then fanfiction needs a fair and unbiased second look.
What do you think? Leave a comment.